Simmons thinking long-term as coach at FAMU

St. Clair Murraine 

Willie Simmons has the Rattlers back to being a winning football program.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

Since its two-point loss to Jackson State almost seven weeks ago, FAMU has not lost a game. Not at home or on the road.

That’s five straight victories.

Clearly, a turnaround of the football program is in progress. So naturally, the question becomes what if Simmons gets the Rattlers to their first post-season appearance in more than a decade.

If he does, there is a bigger question. It came up a week ago when Simmons made his weekly appearance at the 220 Quarterback Club’s luncheon.

When someone in the audience raised concern about what Simmons will do if his phone starts ringing with coaching offers elsewhere in December, the first-year coach put to rest any idea of being a short-timer at FAMU.

“In the coaching profession, everyone has what they call a dream job,” Simmons said. “For me, FAMU is one of those dream jobs.”

That’s no secret. Simmons has deep ties to FAMU. Several members of his family attended or graduated from FAMU. Simmons even wanted to become a Rattler for his last year of eligibility after he graduated from Clemson in 2002.

That didn’t work out because of an ill-fated attempt to move to the BCS classification at the time. This time he is back with a three-year contract that brings him home, not far from where he made a name for himself as a star quarterback at Quincy Shanks High School.

“I’m home. My wife is home (and) my kids are back home,” he said.  Those sentimental things are the reasons that this is the place I want to be.”

That assurance came before Saturday’s 38-3 victory over Morgan State to assure the Rattlers of their first winning season since 2011. 

Since Billy Joe left the program in 2004, it took seven years and two coaches before the Rattlers will become contenders again in 2011. Two more coaches followed without success in turning the program around before Simmons came last December.

Prior to Joe, Jake Gaither had the longest tenure as FAMU’s coach. He gained legendary statue during his 20 years, starting in 1945, winning six Black college national titles.

Simmons promised the change that is obvious. Now he’s insisting that he wants to leave the program much better than he found it — a financial deficit and a losing program.

He’s making inroads that his players are noticing. The part about winning has FAMU fans ecstatic about the post-season possibilities.

His players are liking it, too.

“With the history we have had in the past two years, that’s big progress; with the same guys, too,” said quarterback Ryan Stanley, who has not experienced a winning season until this year. “You know the guys we have have been through rough times when people talked not so good about us.”

Admitted, Simmons said an offer he can’t refuse could be a deciding factor in how long he’ll be at FAMU. It has to be a salary much bigger than the $300,000 that he’s getting annually from FAMU.

“I’m not a naïve person to say that if somebody came and offered me enough money where my grandkids don’t have to worry about money anymore then I would turn it down,” Simmons said in a joking tone. “It would take an offer that you guys would say, ‘coach, you’re crazy if you turn that one down.’ ”

Then, he turned sentimental again in a fashion that left no doubt about his future plans as a coach. He used a statue of Gaither in front of the athletic administrative building to make his point.

“I don’t have an ego, but I want me a little statue right there by coach (Jake) Gaither,” he said. “But let’s not worry about that right now.”

 


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